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Palimpsesthandschrift UBG 2058/2

It is not at all uncommon to find items in old libraries and collections that have been written on twice or even more. Texts that were no longer needed for some reason have been erased from the writing media, often by erasing, washing away or scraping off (= palimpsest). The writing medium - usually durable but expensive parchment - was then reused. This practice can confidently be called ancient recycling.

The manuscript collection of the Graz University Library contains a book that is entirely palimpsest. It was probably brought into its present form in the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai around the 8th/9th century. In the process, the first text, which was written in a beautiful and even Armenian majuscule, was erased. Then the individual parchment leaves were rewritten with the text of the biblical psalms in Georgian. The reading of the removed first text proved naturally difficult. However, four-fifths (a little more than 80 %) of the original text could still be read as pale script. The work was laborious, lengthy and very straining on the eyes (everything had to be read under the UV lamp). I had begun a first autopsy in 2003. The reconstruction of the entire book (279 leaves palimpsest on both sides) was achieved successively in the following years. The publication of the reconstruction finally took place in July 2015.

The extensive work, however, has proven worthwhile. The book that was once erased belongs to the genre of "lot books". Its purpose is similar to that of a horoscope and essentially serves to confirm decisions. Such books were already in use in antiquity. We know evidence from the Latin, Greek, Syriac and Coptic traditions. With the edition now presented, we have for the first time a witness from the Armenian tradition of this material.

Publication (in German only): Erich Renhart, Ein spätantikes Los-Buch. Die Handschrift 2058/2 der Universitätsbibliothek Graz – ein armenisches Palimpsest. Uni Press Graz, Graz 2015, 170 S. ISBN 978-3-902666-36-9

Project directed by: Erich Renhart


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